O’Neil: What do Seahawks do with Earl Thomas after he crossed another line?
On the field, Earl Thomas does things that are simply irreplaceable.
He’s an absolute rock.
Once he got off the field Sunday, though, he said things that would seem impossible for most coaches to tolerate.
That’s the hard place.
And while the Seahawks aren’t necessarily stuck between those two points, there is a very difficult question that must be answered: What do you do with Thomas now?
Even on a team that is notable for the amount of dissent it’s willing to put up with from its employees, Thomas may have crossed a line after Sunday’s game when asked about the reason he sat out two practices last week.
“If they invested in me, I’d be out there practicing,” Thomas said, “but if I feel like anything – and I don’t give a damn if it’s small, I got a headache – I’m not practicing.
“But I don’t want that to be taken the wrong way. I know I’m going to get fined, but that’s just where I’m at with that.”
Uhhhhh, not sure there’s a right way to take that Earl.
The Seahawks can’t keep Thomas, can they? And the reason I ask is sheer number of things that Seattle has overlooked in Pete Carroll’s tenure from extended holdouts, to a player wearing the jersey of a teammate who was holding out to sideline outbursts to a player not boarding a bus to go to a playoff game after taking all the practice repetitions that week.
This feels different, though. This feels like a player making it clear just how uncomfortable the next three months will be unless there’s a resolution, which leaves Seattle with three options each with a significant downside:
1) You can pay Thomas.
Pro: You get a hell of a player who’s playing at an incredible level. In fact, the past three games have only strengthened the case for Thomas’ value in general and his importance to this team specifically. He has intercepted three passes and kept the back gate shut on a defense that has been surprisingly competent given the injuries and the offseason attrition.
Con: You pay money to a veteran player who’s probably not going to get better, following a trend that has backfired for Seattle when it comes to Marshawn Lynch, Michael Bennett and Kam Chancellor. Not only that, but you provide a precedent that may embolden other players to make a similar stink with an eye toward getting what they want.
2) You can trade Earl Thomas.
Pro: You get rid of someone who is obviously not happy here and head off the possibility that things could get worse. You also receive some sort of draft-pick compensation for him though it’s going to assuredly be less than what you staked out as his value. At this point, a second-round pick would be the best Seattle could hope for.
Con: Your team gets worse immediately, and the position that is a strength at the back of the secondary might become a weakness. For all the praise heaped upon Tedric Thompson in training camp, remember what happened when Thomas went down in December 2016? Seattle was suddenly giving up deep passes.
3) You keep Earl Thomas.
Pro: You keep one of your best players, and while Thomas has been up front about his displeasure with his contract, there’s no sign that he has let up at any point in games. You also would presumably get to fine the bejeezus out of him for missing practices.
Con: You won’t know what’s coming next, and more importantly, whether his dissatisfaction will come out in ways other than sitting out a practice if he doesn’t feel 100 percent.
What would you do? I’d trade him. Not just because of the size of the extension he wants, but because the Seahawks have passed the point of no return when it comes to offering him that extension. Buying your way out of this problem would result in future difficulties.
But I’m not the one who’s going to making this decision. That would be Carroll, and if he knows what the Seahawks are going to do with Thomas, he wasn’t telling anyone after the game when asked how to characterize Thomas’ absence from two practices last week.
“I haven’t even talked to him about it,” Carroll said. “Other than we made it through, we’ll talk next week. There’s nothing to even tell you about it right now. I’ll let you know next week.”
Right now, all the Seahawks know for sure is what they got from Thomas on Sunday.
“What I do know is that he gave everything he had today,” Carroll said. “He was in every step of the way, every aspect of the game, the communications, the focus and the adjustments and I was with him on some of those things on the sidelines. He was in everything. He played his tail off and he had a blast playing and he had a blast in the locker room.
“I’ll talk to him next week about whatever.”